U.S. officials are investigating the purchase of 55,000 acres of dry farmland near a U.S. Air Force base in California.
A company called Flannery Associates LLC reportedly spent nearly $1 billion since 2018 acquiring land in Solano County near the base.
Travis Air Force Base, approximately 54 miles from San Francisco, “houses large transport aircraft used for refueling smaller planes and sending aid and munitions around the world,” Daily Mail reports.
Authorities remain clueless to who’s behind the company and why they acquired the land around the base.
Officials are investigating a large acquisition of land near Travis Air Force Base in Californiahttps://t.co/JN2NDPijWq
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) July 10, 2023
Daily Mail reports:
Starting in 2018, a company called Flannery Associates LLC has spent around $800million buying swathes of land around the base, leaving local, state and federal officials flummoxed as to who they are and what they want with it.
An attorney representing Flannery told The Wall Street Journal the company is controlled by US citizens and that 97 percent of its capital comes from American investors – with the remaining investments coming from British and Irish citizens.
In a letter to Solano County, the majority of which is owned by Flannery, the company is described itself as being ‘owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States,’ according to county newspaper the Daily Republic.
But after eight months of investigation, the Air Force’s ‘Foreign Investment Risk Review Office’ has failed to identify any one individual behind the Flannery, according to the Journal.
Meanwhile, the US Agriculture Department has made its own inquiries, also to no avail.
‘Nobody can figure out who they are,’ Ronald Kott, mayor of nearby Rio Vista, which is now largely surrounded by Flannery land, told The Journal. ‘Whatever they’re doing – this looks like a very long-term play.’
Over the years that Flannery, registered in Delaware, has been buying up land, it has given a variety of accounts and indications as to what it wants to do with it.
An attorney for Flannery, Richard Melnyk, said in an email to the county in 2019 that it was considering working with local farmers to farm ‘new types of crops or orchards,’ according to The Journal.
US Air Force draws blanks when trying to find out the mysterious buyer of $1 billion in land near Travis AFB & more. https://t.co/g0ot5fwHFy
— J Michael Waller (@JMichaelWaller) July 8, 2023
The mysterious investors previously sued some landowners in the area for at least $510 million.
Daily Republic, ‘Solano County’s News Source,’ reported on the lawsuit:
“Flannery estimates that, to date, the Conspirators and their illegal price-fixing conspiracy have caused damages to Flannery from overpayment for properties from the Conspirators, their co-owners, and third parties of at least $170 million and that Defendants are therefore jointly and severally liable to pay Flannery treble damages in the amount of at least $510 million,” states the lawsuit, which was filed by Flannery Associates LLC on May 18 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.
Treble damages allows the court to triple the amount of the actual or compensatory damages.
“This is a simple case about a group of wealthy landowners who saw an opportunity to conspire, collude, price fix, and illegally overcharge Flannery, a buyer who had approached these landowners on an individual basis to buy their properties in the Jepson Prairie and Montezuma Hills area of Solano County, California,” the lawsuit states.
“This area hosts several utility-scale commercial wind farms, transmission lines, substations, and other energy infrastructure, as well as numerous environmental conservation and mitigation projects.”
The land purchases includes SMUD’s Solano 4 Wind Project, about which the utility recently settled a lawsuit by the county for development of larger turbines.
The lawsuit also specifically notes land values of some of the defendants due to wind development leases.
Flannery contends in the federal action that the more than 60 named defendants “formed a secret conspiracy to drive up prices to supracompetitive levels by eliminating the free market competition in the sale of properties that would have otherwise occurred among the Conspirators.”
“The chief executive officer is listed with the California Secretary of State’s Office as Andrew Lerner,” Daily Republic states.
There are concerns that the mysterious group of investors represent foreign interests.
Travis officials said they’re aware of the land purchases and federal agencies briefed them on the group’s activities.
However, the identities of the investors remain a mystery.
The Post Millennial explains:
Flannery said in June that because no foreign person “holds any significant interest or substantial control” of the company, it does not need to register its holdings in Solano County.
20 parcels of land that Flannery owns directly surround the Travis base. The registered agent for Flannery Associates is The Corporation Trust Company in Wilmington Delaware.
The trust company registers itself as its own registered agent and hides any identifiable information. The BBB ratings of The Corporation Trust Company show multiple written complaints claiming that there is not one person working for the entity.
A profile of The Corporation Trust Company also alleges that it has not had a single employee for the last five years.